People with learning disabilities over-represented in criminal justice system with no systematic approach to accessible and equitable services


Last week, the excellent UK forensic and learning disabilities network, one of a range of networks run throughout the UK to provide information to people supporting people with learning disabilities, circulated a note about a report from west Yorkshire. Although a local report, the findings have a wider relevance. The report was commissioned by the West Yorkshire Probation Trust and set out to review the evidence on the probation journey experienced by people with a hidden learning disability or limited English. The review was carried out by background research and interviews with staff and service users.

The review team found a good deal of evidence to support the notion that people with learning disability and learning difficulties are over-represented in the criminal justice system

The review team pointed out however that the probation service did not have a systematic approach to ensuring such people are provided with an accessible and equitable service.

They identified a range of barriers facing people with learning disability including:

  • invisibility,
  • stigma,
  • misunderstanding due to communication breakdown,
  • ineffective assessment,
  • difficulty relating to people of the opposite sex and/or working in groups
  • multiple needs arising from a life time of social exclusion.

The review team make a number of recommendations to help bring about change, including the need to identify communications needs and barriers at initial assessment; improving training for front line staff and the creation of designated champion for each district/activity/hostel who could receive additional training and provide a point of advice for colleagues

In addition there are recommendations about improving accessibility of information and improving co-ordination with other criminal justice agencies and partners in the third sector, NHS and social services

The authors conclude that there is good practice and a range of useful resources in the criminal justice system and call on colleagues in the locality to rise to the challenge of overcoming the barriers identified in the review

“Do we ask often enough?” The offender experience: the personal view of people on Probation with certain protected characteristics
West Yorkshire Probation Trust,

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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